III. Further consideration of the kindergarten.
Now Charlotte Mason turns to her criticisms of the Kindergarten movement — that it is yet another educational system, one that is overly structured, too finely-tuned, too teacher-mediated, too quick to rely on programmed artificial activities, things that are cute and easy, sweet and light. In this way it undervalues the intelligence, the abilities, the autonomy and initiative, and the interests of children.
She talks about how the very word “kindergarten” has shifted. It was originally meant as an outdoor classroom of sorts for young children. Then it started to be seen as a garden for children to grow in — as if children are plants to be tended as if in a greenhouse. “It is a doubtful boon to a person to have conditions too carefully adapted to his needs,” says Mason — a person is a much more sophisticated thing than a plant, and a person has her own will and interests and is not subordinate to another’s purposes in the way a garden vegetable or flower is (186).
It’s funny to me to see Mason so strong in her emphasis on not imposing too much on children, not being too structured or too teacher- or parent-mediated, not too artificial or too carefully prepared — because in other places she has seemed to make those very errors!
Anyway, I have often had similar thoughts about many kids’ programs, whether at church or school or library story times or anything.
It reminds me, to give one example, of children’s choirs at the church in which I grew up. In the first several years, the music minister Robin was in charge of us as well as the adult choirs and the organ and all. He treated us like small people more than like children. He was a little gruff and a little matter-of-fact, and we learned a lot of theory and music literacy and did more sophisticated songs with him.
Then Elaine came to be the children’s music minister, and she had that twaddlish talking-to-children voice and manner, and made things far simpler than they needed to be… I missed Robin!
I feel the same way Mason does about most kids’ crafts and other activities, too. Instead of “make a rainbow with these colored precut strips of paper” and the like, just let the kids explore real stuff, especially out in nature, and do their own thing with real art materials.
Of course, Charlotte Mason was as critical of Montessori as she is of kindergarten — another highly prepared system with artificial materials.
I think Montessori is much more respectful of children’s independence and intelligence than Mason’s description of Kindergarten sounds. I don’t think the specialized materials are a detriment, especially if kids also have plenty of time to be outside and at home and so on. Having something sized for him and geared to his real interests is not a bad thing for a child, and is far better than the flashy and loud, overstimulating and distracting, not to mention passive, toys that line the shelves of stores. It’s a cardinal rule that kids choose and direct their own work at Montessori schools, so there is less danger of too much teacher mediation.
Also, Montessori avoids one of the other things Mason criticized kindergarten for — only having the company of age-mates — Montessori classrooms have multiple ages together; primary, for example, ranges from three to six years. In the paragraph about peers, Mason writes “[w]e have all wondered at the good sense, reasonableness, fun and resourcefulness shown by a child in his own home as compared with the same child in school life” (191). This statement rings true with my experience with typical schools — and yet I have seen all of those good things in Montessori schools. (I’m sure there are other programs that have similar characteristics — Waldorf, likely enough, and perhaps others as well.)
Still, one of the reasons I am not sure I would continue with Montessori beyond primary is time. We seriously considered full day for this school year — Montessori folks assured us that with a full day the kids get to sink in deeper to their work, develop their own normalized sense of concentration, autonomy, and interest, challenging and engaging themselves more and more. But — it would mean less time outside and at home and elsewhere. Add the hour commute at both ends (not to mention tuition) and the cost is too much — in time as much as in money.
I do still hope and intend to incorporate Montessori ideas into my homeschooling — for one thing I hope to continue with Montessori math, and perhaps I can use a Montessori approach to some other things.